Honshu Wolf Survival?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 8th, 2007

Honshu Wolf

Honshu Wolf

Honshu Wolf

The world’s smallest variety of wolf, the Japanese wolf, also called the Honshu Wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax), supposedly became extinct in 1905 in Nara prefecture. But did some survive beyond that date? And was there physical proof of this, in 1910 in Fukui prefecture?

Sightings of the Japanese wolf persist to the present. A new debate is occurring currently in Japan that the extinction date may have been incorrect, almost immediately.

Intriguingly, finding a taxidermy example of the Honshu Wolf presently is quite difficult. Only five mounted specimens are known worldwide, three in Japan, one in the Netherlands (which is pictured in Swift as a Swallow), and the supposedly final 1905 animal, which is located at the British Museum.

But was there another taxidermy mount that proved these wolves lived beyond 1905?

In Japan, a recent Asahi News discussion has surfaced regarding the photographs you see here. I am grateful to cryptozoology historian American Brent Swancer living in Japan, who has passed info from his translation along to me.

Supposedly killed in 1910 in Fukui, the Japanese wolf in the above photo is apparently genuine. The article explains that the last officially known Japanese wolf died in 1905, yet here is one that was allegedly killed in 1910.

Unfortunately, the body was destroyed in a fire, according to the article. The picture in the middle is a stuffed specimen of that last known Japanese wolf and the picture at the bottom is the farm where the wolf at top was shot.

The two photos today remain as the only real evidence that this wolf existed since the body has long since been destroyed.

In the Asahi News article there is a mention that in an issue of the Fukui agricultural magazine of the time, zoo staff had examined the animal the day after the shooting in 1910. They came to the conclusion that it was indeed a Japanese wolf. Unfortunately, it seems that that is as far as the examination went. It appears that those who advocate that this was a Japanese wolf point to that Fukui magazine article, as well as comparing the morphology of the animal pictured to data on the Japanese wolf. But it is inconclusive and not enough to change the common historical record that the last known specimen died in Nara in 1905. Brent Swancer

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

97 Responses to “Honshu Wolf Survival?”

  1. mystery_man responds:

    It is very interesting to think about the size of the Honshu wolf and consider that it’s range was larger than the Ezo (Hokkaido wolf), and it essentially subsisted on the same prey species, yet the Hokkaido vareity is larger. It really did not look much like your typical wolf at all. Also, kittenz rightly said that other canids in the world have evolved in thickly forested areas, yet they are larger. I personally think it was just the way this particular wolf evolved to deal with this obstacle. Some of the old growth forests were incredibly dense and the amount of underbrush and mountainous terrain on Honshu was pretty much impassable, so it might have been problematic for a larger gey wolf to get through some of it. So having this compact size could be an advantage in getting from place to place. The prey size is no different from what some of the larger varieties of wolf eat, so it is very interesting. It is also interesting to note that this wolf had a relatively thin, short, almost dog like tail and this is also often thought to have contributed to its ease in getting around. This is the main theory here on its small stature.

  2. mystery_man responds:

    The Honshu wolf also had short, dense fur which was well suited to its habitat. I wanted to add something about the extinction of the Hokkaido wolf. Although the Honshu wolf was thought to have died out due to disease and to some extent deforestation (a lot of modern Japanese forests are thin, new growth forests, very few of the old growth forests that dominated the landscape at one time left), the Hokkaido wolf died out in a different manner. During the Meiji era, which lasted up to 1912, there was an increasing abundance of western style cattle farms that sprung up in Hokkaido and the Ezo wolf came to be seen as a threat to livestock. Many ranchers engaged in active poisoning campaigns which many believe is one of the main reasons for the wolf’s demise.

    It may interest some to know that there were some active expeditions to search for the Honshu wolf in the 90s and during these expeditions to the deep mountains, the calls of grey wolves were blared over speakers in the hopes of some sort of response. Although many audio tapes were made during these expeditions, and these tapes were carefully examined, no wolf response was heard and the expeditions came away empty handed.
    On another note, I am interested to hear what the posters here think about the plans that have been tossed around to reintroduce some sort of wolf in Japan. DWA gave some of his thoughts and I am curious to know what others here think, as I respect your opinions.

    There was a time when i thought it was a good idea, but nowadays I am personally against the idea just because I’m holding out hope that the Honshu wolf is still out there.

  3. Tengu responds:

    Of course, I forgot that the Japanese name for wolf is OKAMI, (honourable deity) with all that implies, gomen.

    And thanks for the stories, I have a large collection of Japanese myth; some of them very rare indeed, but all in English, sadly.

  4. mystery_man responds:

    Tengu- Okami can also be seen to mean “Great God”. The Japanese wolf was also known as Magami (True God), and Yama no kami (mountain God). In Hokkaido, they were known by the indigenous Ainu people as the “Howling God”. Some other interesting folklore surrounding the wolf is that in some areas, the skulls or legs of wolves were sometimes hung up to ward against evil spirits of which, as I’m sure you may know, there were many in Japan. It is interesting to know that although the wolf was on occasion hunted, it was thought that anyone who killed one brought great misfortune upon themselves. There were also numerous stories of great historical figures who were said to have been raised by wolves.

  5. daledrinnon responds:

    On the Warra (sorry I took so long to get back to you guys!), the news notices during the Falkland Islands war were speaking of a living canid that preyed on sheep and which was supposed to be related to the Andes wolf. Unfortunately, that was the complete information I had from that source. I suppose sightings could be based on feral dogs; the name Warra was used elsewhere in South America for an unknown canid (not linguistically related, and a “Catlike dog”).

  6. DWA responds:

    I’m pretty fond of saying that evolution isn’t perfect. It’s good enough to reproduce.

    The Honshu wolf hit a place where it worked, and it kept looking that way. The Hokkaido wolf might have wound up looking exactly the same way it did on Hokkaido had it evolved on Honshu. But they were separated by water, and evolution is random. And as the dhole aspect of this thread raises, they might simply have been quite different animals converging to the same ends.

    Wolf, bear and sasquatch: similar habitat, broadly intersecting diets. Strikingly dissimilar body plans.

    Whatever works.

    That’s it.

  7. MBFH responds:

    mystery_man, I think that the (re)introduction of wolves into Japan should only occur if the authorities are pretty much certain that any native species are indeed extinct. There are other ways of controlling deer and boar populations, which I don’t necessarily agree with but in the absence of a natural method keeping the ecological balance is important.

    It further raises the question though, if it was indeed a form of rabies that wiped out the Honshu wolf this was a natural event (unless it was introduced) and maybe things should be allowed to take their course. That isn’t the human way though, best to interfere 😉

    I’m all for the reintroduction of wolves into the UK though!

  8. daledrinnon responds:

    I would be interested to know that, if the actual Honshu Wolf is extinct, is it possible that its genes are still circulating in persisting wolf-dog hybrids? The classification could have a bearing on this: coyotes interbreed with feral dogs more readily than actual wolves do.

  9. kittenz responds:


    The several native dog breeds of Japan are probably descended at least in part from the Japanese wolves. The Shikoku breed, called Shikoku Inu, especially, resembles a small, slender wolf, and breed legend has it that the Shikoku Inu is a direct descendant of the Honshu race of wolf.

    This is a link to a website devoted to the Shikoku Inu.

    There are several photos of Shikoku Inu on the website. While the Shikoku are obviously dogs and not wolves, the resemblance to the wolf in the article here is striking.

    The Akita Inu, better known here in America simply as the Akita, is thought to have been derived from the larger of the two subspecies, the Hokkaido wolf that mystery_man also mentioned. Akitas in Japan still have a more wolf-like appearance than do American Akitas.

    I don’t know if any detailed DNA studies have been done to compare the dogs’ DNA with DNA of the Japanese wolves.

    The descriptions I have read of the Hokkaido wolf describe a much different animal than the Honshu wolf. I have not been able to locate a photo of one, other than a photo of some poorly mounted museum specimens. The descriptions I have found of it all mention that the head was very large, as were the feet, and that it had very long, curved canine teeth.

    I’m on the fence about the reintroduction of wolves to Japan. Since the Japanese native wolves seem to have been so distinct from other Canis lupus subspecies, I think it would be best not to introduce wolves from other areas unless it’s fairly certain that they will not be competing with any native wolves that may have survived, or diluting their small gene pool even further.

    Thanks again mystery_man, for turning us on to this article, and of course to Loren for posting it.

  10. DWA responds:

    Well, here’s my strategy:

    1. A two-year effort to document remaining Japanese wolves of both subspecies.

    followed by (if no evidence is found)

    2. A crash breeding program for Akita Inu and Shikoku Inu, for potential release into the wild.

    Let’s see if that’s still a good idea after coffee in the morning. 😀

  11. mystery_man responds:

    Kittenz- You sure do know your Japanese dog breeds! Those breeds are indeed thought to maintain at least a bit of the wolf’s DNA. I am not sure of the veracity of those claims though. The Hokkaido wolf was indeed quite a different animal than the Honshu wolf and was a seperate subspecies (or species, depending on who you ask!) Unfortunately, there is even less remaining on them than there is on the Honshu wolf. I will see if I can dig up any photos on them, there are very few out there. You bring up a good point and I’m kind of curious myself now as to whether a comparative DNA analysis has ever been made between those dog breeds and the wolves.

    MBFH- As far as the rabies goes, it is thought that this was not a natural occurrence but was caused by domesticated dogs in which case it WAS caused by humans in a way. There was also canine distemper that hit the wolves pretty hard. Interestingly enough, Japan now has some of the strictest controls against rabies in the world. Cases of rabies are pretty much unheard of now. There was a Japanese man recently who came back from the Phillipines with rabies and it was front page news. As for the deer and boar, there have been other measures to control their populations, but unfortunately it often involves poisoning, which could be bad for any wolves remaining as well. Deer and boar still are a nuisance in many areas. The boars in particular can sometimes be downright dangerous and they often wander into suburban areas in some locales. I’ve always been partial to letting a healthy ecosystem take care of itself. 🙂

    DWA- What do you think after that coffee? 🙂 I don’t think breeding the Akita inu or Shikkoku inu would be the way to go. Although these dogs maintain a rather primitive appearance, and may contain some of the original DNA, they are still domesticated dogs separated by their ancestors by many generations of selective breeding and interbreeding. The idea being proposed is the reintroduction of wolves from other areas, such as Asiatic wolves or grey wolves.

    Thanks to everyone here giving their opinions on the reintroduction idea. The people on this site, DWA, Kittenz, MBFH, and others, have a lot of good things to say and your opinions and comments are much appreciated. I personally feel that there should be more of a concerted effort should be made to locate any remaining Honshu wolves and if they are found, they should be bred for later release into the wild. If foreign wolves are introduced, I fear the results could be disastrous for any Honshu or Hokkaido wolves remaining and it would be the killing blow. Unfortunately, so far all efforts to properly document their continued existence, such as those expeditions I mentioned from the 90s, have met with failure. I still hold out hope though as there are still sightings, and evidence such as wolf kills and spoor being found to this day.

  12. mystery_man responds:

    Sorry, I meant to say Asian wolves above when talking about possible species to reintroduce, as in wolves from the Asian mainland. Not Asiatic wolves, which is what the Iranian wolf is sometimes called. Sorry, I had been reading an article on them and that slipped in there!

  13. mystery_man responds:

    FYI- The Asiatic wolf is also called the Indian wolf and it is Canis lupus pallipes.

  14. daledrinnon responds:

    Yes, I know of a website concerning the Japanese dog breeds you are talking about. This site calls the whole series pariah dogs, like the dingoes and basenjis. I would certainly be looking foreward to any definitive DNA evidence for the wolves in question as related to other wolves and other dogs. It looks like the classification is anybody’s game at this point.

  15. kittenz responds:

    I have also seen the Japanese breeds referred to as pariah dogs, but I disagree. My definition of a pariah dog is a type of dog that develops as a scavenger on the fringes of human habitations, without human intervention or selective breeding. The Japanese breeds have been selectively bred for function, and more recently for show, for centuries. Of course, “pariahs” and strays exist in Japan, as they do everywhere that there are dogs. Probably most breeds living today were originally selected from pariah types; the domestication of dogs may very well have begun around prehistoric rubbish heaps.

    I believe that there have been several species of dingo-type animals, closely related to wolves, and also several species of wolves and wolflike animals, many of them no longer existing as separate species, which have become assimilated into the gene pool of the domestic dog. I think that many of the “wild dogs” that exist in small numbers, such as the Carolina dog, are descended from animals such as that.

    Mystery_man, my sister is the Akita person. My breed is the GSD :). One of my sister’s dogs, a big 138 pound black sesame pinto Akita, lived with me for a few years. We researched them thoroughly before she ever bought one. Akitas have large, blocky heads and big feet. They’ve got some wicked-looking canine teeth too, and they are very independent-natured, a lot like a chow.

    I guess the true origins of the Japanese breeds are lost in the mists of time. I want to learn more about the Japanese wolves. The description of the Hokkaido wolf in particular, sounds like an animal that could have been ancestral to a dog like the Akita.

    DWA, in one of your posts you discussed some of the different types of pack behavior that have been observed in various wild canids. There is another wild canid that has an unusual lifestyle: the Ethiopian wolf. They live in small family packs, but the packs do not hunt together as a group. Instead, the adult animals split up and hunt individually for small game, then regroup and den together. The terrain over which they hunt is a sort of alpine type terrain, and the wolves hunt mostly rodents. Possibly the Honshu wolf, which was also small and coyote-like, used similar hunting techniques.

  16. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: after further coffee, I should reveal that at the time of my proposal to breed domestics for wild release, I was having a bout of tongue/cheek insertion. It has gone away. 🙂

    Although, if a predator pick a predator any predator is what you need, stray dogs forming spontaneous packs all over the world seem to indicate that this might actually work. I do agree that reintroduction of any kind should only be tried after the most thorough reasonable search for each subspecies has turned up nothing.

    It almost seems to me that if we could ever get to that place where DNA could be used to reproduce “vanished” species, the first place to use it might not be bringing back the wooly mammoth, but “reintroducing” species that may not be totally gone (like the Japanese wolves and the thylacine).

    kittenz: your definition of pariah dogs squares with what I understand. The pics I’ve seen of the Inu breeds show strict breeding for clear characteristics. Although the Carolina dog has been accepted as a breed by a couple of associations, it looks more like a mutt in the wild state – which is why it was overlooked as one for so long. Taking your thought about rubbish heaps a bit further, there’s a pretty strong theory out there now that man didn’t domesticate the dog so much as the dog domesticated itself – moving, as life tends to, into a newly-created ecological niche.

    I can’t remember whether the Ethiopian wolf shares its range with larger animals that it might take in pack efforts. If such animals are there – and I’m sure there are a few such, antelopes perhaps – I’m sure they’re occasionally taken too. If not, that would surprise me.

  17. mystery_man responds:

    Well, Kittenz, that is interesting info on the Ethiopian wolf’s hunting techniques. Although small, the Honshu wolf was the top predator in Japan and was typically taking down large prey such as deer or boar. I’m sure they could have gone off and hunted small prey as well, but taking down animals the size of the ones they were required pack hunting and this is backed up by the fact that they were routinely seen hunting in packs. Their hunting of large prey belies their size, but it seems that they hunted in very much the same manner as most other wolves or wild canids. It’s the Japanese tanuki that fits in more with the hunting for smaller prey niche in Japan and this is the reason why the tanuki was unable to fill the ecological niche left behind by the Honshu wolf.

  18. Ceroill responds:

    A married couple I know had a couple of Akitas, one was the offspring of the other. Very different personalities. The older one was an excellent guard dog, but not very friendly. They felt they had to contain her in the basement when company came over. Her daughter, however was very friendly, and seemed convinced she was a tiny lapdog. Wonderful animals.

    As to various wild dogs, I recall seeing a documentary about the Carolina Yellow Dogs, and it was brought up by the person doing the study that he had noticed superficial similarities between them and a number of apparently ancient types of wild dogs (dingoes, etc.). He had the idea that many of the general characteristics- coat color, etc., could be ancestral traits (not sure if that is the proper term) for dogs in general. I know I’m not using all the right technical terminology, but I hope I’m getting my ideas across well.

  19. mystery_man responds:

    Just for a sec, since we are on the topic of Japanese dog breeds, there is a very formidable one called the Tosa inu, which was bred for dog fighting. Dog fighting is a sport I detest, but it is interesting the reverance with which even these dogs are treated nevertheless. These are very un wolf-like dogs though and I doubt there is any close ancestry from wolves. The Japanese Chin is another that most likely has very little relation. If you’ve ever seen one, it looks like a shi tzu more than anything else. I find it interesting that most of the popular Japanese breeds showcase a sort of wolf-like look. My breed is mostly pugs, which is strange since I love wolves and they are probably the least wolf-like of all. 🙂

    I would be curious to see how closely the Akita and Shikkoku inu are related, if at all, to the Honshu or Hokkaido wolves. As was said in Kittenz’ post, these are certainly not pariah dogs. Akitas and Shiba inu and Shikkoku inus are highly prized and have been carefully bred for a very long time. It is a shame because it is most likely escaped feral dogs that contributed to some of the epidemics that wiped out the Honshu wolf.

    Kittenz- I am happy that you want to learn more about the Honshu and Hokkaido wolves. Information on them, unfortunately is not as easy to come by as other wolf species and indeed many have never heard of them. But I hope I have been giving you all good information and of course if you have any questions, I will be happy to try and answer them.

  20. mystery_man responds:

    And DWA, I also often think about how very nice it would be to be able to use DNA to bring back some of the species we have lost. Nothing like Jurassic Park velociraptors, mind you, but animals that, through our malice, exploitation, or ignorance, have been wiped off the face of the Earth. It seems like the least we could do for them. I wonder when or if that kind of technology will ever be available for this purpose.

    Right now, I am very worried about the Japanese ecosystem. There are a lot of problems with not only population explosions of unchecked prey species and the effect they have on the fauna, but also the scourge of introduced species. Quite a few indigenous species have been pushed to the brink by these introduced species either by direct predation, competition, or like the Honshu wolf, disease. The one reason why I once advocated the reintroduction of wolves in Japan is because a keystone predator is really needed here.

  21. dogu4 responds:

    Wow…what a great topic. Who’d a thunk it? 69 replies…and such great observations shedding much needed light on the subject. I wonder if some of these extirpated lineages have left us samples for genetic mapping. I’d be surprised if some of the most closely held notions of dogs and their origins and behaviours aren’t shown to be truly incredible but for completely different reasons than we’d ever imagined once we have a more fully developed understanding of how these genetic complexes (super species) and the processes (races) that comprise them are related.

  22. Loren Coleman responds:

    Thanks to everyone with all your good comments. Cryptozoology, indeed, is about “hidden animals” that may be out there, even if the less sexy cryptids slip under the radar in more sensationalized media treatments of Bigfoot and Nessie!

    I find the Honshu wolf a compelling animal mystery.

  23. daledrinnon responds:

    I am sorry about the term “Pariah Dogs” myself. it is something of a misnomer. In this instance it was being used as a general classification of persistingly-primitive dogs such as dingoes. My own preferential theory is that the first dopmesticated doghs were bred from Ethioian wolves and moved with the first modern Homo sapiens out of africa: some of their closest descendants would be the Dingoes and the Pariah dogs of India.

    ‘Pariah dog’ describes both the living habits and a particular breed. I was using the latter sense, as was my source. They are basically “mutts” but with a specific series of recognizable traits and in general are Dingo-like: The Carolina dogs, Basenjis and the New Guinea Singing dogs are included, as well as the Japanese breeds according to the source I mentioned. I have a geneological tree based on DNA comparisons in one of my yahoo groups dealing with the Out of Africa theory–dealing with the domestication of dogs as one of the topics of discussion in that group.

  24. kittenz responds:

    I think that wild canids of various kinds were domestcated all over the world, and probably many thousands of years earlier than is commonly thought. As humans ebbed and flowed into various regions, their canine companions went with them, to mingle and mix even further.

    Humans and dogs have evolved together almost like a symbiotic organism. We’ll never know the whole story; it’s lost in time. But I welcome every discovery, and I find the study of the evolution of the relationship between dogs and their people utterly fascinating.

    What a terrific discussion this has been!

  25. kittenz responds:

    BTW, mystery_man, Tosa Inus, which are ranked among the giant breeds of dogs, are a much more recent breed than the other Japanese breeds. The breed was developed after Japan began trading regularly with European countries and their colonies, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Larger types of native Japanese dogs were crossed with English mastiffs, Great Danes (then known as Boarhounds), bull terriers, bulldogs (which at that time were larger, leggier dogs, resembling today’s American bulldog breeds) and even Saint Bernards (for more size). The goal was to produce the canine equivalent of a sumo wrestler: a huge dog that would fight silently and be invincible in a fight. Tosas certainly are formidable; in some countries and some localities they are banned (I strongly oppose breed bans). So, although Tosas were developed in Japan, they are much more European in their ancestry, and probably are only distantly (if at all) related to the indigenous ancient Japanese breeds.

  26. daledrinnon responds:

    Thank you, Kittenz, on your reply to my last posting. I think that we are basically close in our general assessment of the domestication of dogs. Genetic studies have suggested that some types of dogs were domesticated over 100,000 years ago, but the whole category of “dog” has been blended among many local types so that actual origins are hard to sort out.

    Yes, this has been an unusually fruitful discussion.

  27. daledrinnon responds:

    I should make it a point to say that when I introduced the question about Honshu wolf-dog hybrids, I was suggesting that resurfacings of the type after its presumed extinction could be the result of accidental recombinants of the original DNA in hybrid wolf-dogs, or otherwise throwbacks. If the animals’ DNA continues, it cannot be said to ever really be extinct.

  28. dogu4 responds:

    I’m not sure that many population biologists would agree with that definition of extinction, but it is interesting how suites of characteristics seem to emerge and resemble previous populations. I was just checkin’ out a fossil web-site for a fossil site in Indiana and they listed a canid: borophagus. The name sounded interesting and as I suspected it was for a now extinct species of canid with jaws like a hyena and a bulging forehead…sorta looked like a mastiff skull.

    I recalled reading an old story about early travelers crossing the buffalo lands who reported a type of wolf that seemed to be particularly adapted for taking bison. The story related that they were big and so slow a horseman could gallop next to them and dispatch them with a blow from a club. Seems apocryphal, but then again, the borophagus canid had jaws that seemed ideal for the big bones of bison and the other megafauna of the late Pleistocene and early Holocene.

    And speaking of all things dog, one may want to take notice of the ongoing experiment in canid evolution via competition of the fittest which is currently taking place in Alaska; the Iditarod. You’d be surprised at the kinds of genetic admixing that’s gone on to achieve the instinctive drive and other characteristics found in these incredibly athletic dogs being developed for this very interesting effort.

  29. kittenz responds:

    I have to disagree on that point, daledrinnon. I see what you mean, and I agree that an animal’s DNA lives on, even in hybrids, but if the entire population becomes hybridized, then the species is extinct. Animals resembling the original species can be selectively bred together over several generations to try to create an animal identical in appearance to the original species, but whether that animal is truly of the original species is debatable.

    There was a discussion along those lines about quaggas. There are ongoing efforts to recreate them, using related subspecies of zebras. There have also been attempts to recreate tarpans (a type of horse, one of the ancestors of domestic horses), and aurochs (giant wild cattle, the primary progenitor of European cattle breeds). Animals known to be descended from them have been crossed and recrossed, with the goal always being to select the offspring most like the extinct species for inclusion in the breeding programs. Animals have been produced that greatly resemble the extinct species, and in the case of the tarpans, they look identical to tarpans in some of the historical reference material, and in ancient cave art. But even though they look identical, I don’t think they can be considered to belong to the extinct species.

  30. kittenz responds:

    That being said, I still applaud the efforts of those dedicated people who are carrying out these breeding programs to try to recreate extinct species. There is a point in livestock breeding where, in most breeds, after a given number of backcrosses back to an animal of one of the parent species, a crossbred animal can be considered purebred. The regulations vary from breed to breed. It’s still worthwhile to preserve hybrid populations of endangered animals, especially if the hybridization is between subspecies.

  31. kittenz responds:

    I’ve always been interested in borophagids, too, dogu4. They were the Canidae’s answer to the hyaenids. I doubt they survived past the early Pleistocene, but it’s an interesting idea.

    I’ve often wondered whether some of the big, heavily built wolves that preyed on the large herds of American may have been dire wolves, Canis dirus. The link here is one of many good sites with more information about dire wolves. They certainly had the musculature and dental equipment to deal with large, aggressive herbivores. But then again, the modern species of grey wolf excels at that, too.

  32. mystery_man responds:

    Well, I agree with Kittenz on the definition of extinction. Parts of the original DNA may remain, but if a species has been absorbed into another or been hybridized to a certain degree, it for all intents and purposes is extinct. Although there is a chance that the Honshu wolf’s genes live on in some of the modern breeds of dogs, it is still as far as we know extinct. I repsect efforts to bring back animals such as the quagga, but I’m afraid the only way the Honshu wolf is likely to be brought back is if there are more efforts made to find pockets of survivors. Kittenz- yes, I know about the Tosa inu, that’s why I doubt it has any lineage with with the wolf. It is an interesting story, the Tosa inu. Again, you know your Japanese breeds! Thank you for posting that information for everyone. I’m suprised that the borophagids have been brought up, but I guess it should be expected!

  33. kittenz responds:

    lol, mystery_man, one good canid leads to another 🙂 !

  34. dogu4 responds:

    In considering the resurrection of a lost species, whether its the Honshu wolf or one of its cousins, or the quagga, or the wooley mammoth, or one of our other recently exterminated cousins, I think it’s worth considering that in order for it to stand as something other than simply an example of technical wizardry, the resurrected species would need the habitat for which it had been genetically adapted. I think most wildlife biologists these days would consider the wolf something other than just the total accumulation of its genes in particular because we know so much about wolves…but we’d been living with ’em for thousands of years. Yet up until the 1920’s and 30’s when Olaus and Adolph Murie were able to observe wolves under protection from hunting and in the open visible world of the taiga and tundra of the Denali Alaska region, we universally thought of wolves as simple killers possessed of an evil nature. It wasn’t until natural behaviours in natural environments were studied that we begin to understand the implications of what it was to be a species in a more modern sense, and of course we see that definition continue to metamorphose into the suite of modern meanings we give it today. And of course we see how the behaviors of wolves in particular feed back into the system which is then modified and reaches a new state of equilibrium that in turn provides for the animals which we find actively engaged in the process of living and adapting to the kind of changes typical to the living system in which they are living. The recent re-introduction of wolves into the Yellowstone region is a great example of how this works with wolves predation on elk resulting in elk leaving the creek beds and so willow other pioneer species of plants are taking hold where previously they’d been browsed away, providing habitat for birds…and so it goes. In some ways, the Honshu wolf, were it to be resurrected would luckily have a semblance of it’s original habitat thanks to the foresight of Japan’s intelligent leaders back in its feudal history. Let’s hope ourown leadership inherits that respect for the contributions the natural world makes and of our dependence on it.

  35. mystery_man responds:

    I am all for reestablishing a healthy ecosystem in Japan. It sure could use one right about now. A lot of people just don’t realize how important every component of an ecosystem can be and thank you Dogu4 for pointing out some important things. I can always rely on you to make some good comments here. All things have an effect on everything else and we are not necessarily exempt from that. The wolf is certainly more than the accumulation of its genes, it is an integral part of any ecosystem, a keystone predator. It has an effect on all creatures all the way down the food chain. Many people do not realize the variety of life forms that can be affected by the loss of such a species. The disappearance of the wolf from Japan was not just unfortunate for the wolf, it had a negative impact on other lifeforms within the environment as well. Take it away, and the equilibrium gets thrown out of whack. The destruction of a species is not merely just that, but it is the destruction of a key component in an intricate system that we can not even always predict the ultimate effect of. Sometimes the unpredictable effects of this sort of modification of the ecosystem, be that by an extinction or an introduced species, are not known until years down the line. To me, it is quite obvious that the Honshu wolf had an important role to play, its loss was profound, and sadly many people even in Japan are unaware that it ever existed.

    There is another thing I wanted to bring up about the Honshu wolf, if nobody is sick of hearing about it yet 🙂 . Although there are those here in Japan, like me, who think it may survive out there in the deep mountains, this belief is thought of as a fairly fringe idea here. Most zoologists do not seriously consider the possibility that it is still out there and that is how they can confidently make plans for the possible reintroduction of wolves. People who think the Honshu wolf still exists are regulated to the fringe minority for sure, I can personally attest to that. You can see even with this article posted here that for the mainstream scientific community, the disappearance of the Honshu wolf is an open and shut case. It disappeared in 1905 in Nara, and that’s that regardless of evidence, such as I provided here to the contrary. As long as nobody high up is convinced, the Honshu wolf is effectively extinct whether it is lucky enough to have hung on this long or not. No laws are there to protect it. There seems to be no real willingness to entertain the possibility of its continued existence despite the amount of sightings and circumstantial evidence out there, except for a few researchers without the resources to make anything happen. Sound like any other cryptids you know? It is frustrating to say the least.

    There is still a lot of good habitat out there for the Honshu wolf. Whether it still roams out there remains to be seen.

  36. dogu4 responds:

    While considering habitat, consider the internal aspect of it.

    We don’t just live in it, it lives in us.

    Reference today’s NYT: Epic of Human Migration Is Carved in Parasites’ DNA

    And of course the latest on primate lice from last week, how germane.

    Again, really great thread here. It stands in stark contrast to the kind of blather that characterizes a lot of the internet. Not that I don’t enjoy that too, but it’s satisfying to read these posts.


  37. DWA responds:

    mystery_man: it’s safe to say there’s no way to underestimate the impact of the loss of a keystone predator.

    As John Muir put it: when one tugs on anything in the universe, one finds it connected to everything else.

    As I once put it, on a much more specific level: aquatic ecosystems in Yellowstone are recovering at the rate they are because wolves scare elk.

  38. kittenz responds:

    Native peoples around the world, who live a nomadic or semi-nomadic existence (in my opinion, that is the true natural way of life for our species), have always lived in harmony with wolves and other predators. They recognized the predators’ importance in their world. Because those nomadic or semi-nomadic people tended not to overwhelm their habitat, they got along well with all predators, from the smallest to the largest. That’s not to say they don’t kill a few, and the predators sometimes kill a few people, too, but there was a basic understanding and tolerance between the two.

    It is the so-called “civilized” (read: agriculturalized) people, who forced their agriculture, and their massive herds of livestock, and later their (our) industries, into permanent, unnatural residence in relatively small, confined areas who began to see wolves and other predators as “simple killers possessed of an evil nature”. Of course, those people (“we”) are the ones who overran the world, and we also decided that the nomadic and semi-nomadic native peoples were also “simple killers possessed of an evil nature”, and therefore (since our agriculture and our livestock and our industries required more land to replace that to which we had already laid waste), we thought it was just fine to wipe them out right along with those bloodthirsty predators.

    Thank goodness that the latter half of the twentieth century saw our kind beginning to look up from wantonly destroying wildlife, and listening to the saner minds among us, from John Muir and Adolph Murie, to Rachel Carson and Dian Fossey, and continuing with George Schaller and Jane Goodall. Even though habitat and wildlife destruction continues at an alarming rate around the globe, I am an optimist. I think there is hope for our kind yet, and just maybe there is hope for animals like the wolves too.

  39. kittenz responds:

    Well, I’ve searched through books on top of books and scoured the internet and I cannot find any legitimate, verified references to successful fox/dog matings. I know I have seen that somewhere but maybe I am mistaken. I’ve found several references to successful matings between different species of foxes, but I’ve been unsuccessful (so far) in finding the literature on fox/dog matings. When I find it I’ll research it and if it looks to be true I’ll post it.

  40. dogu4 responds:

    I feel sure I’ve seen referrence to it as well. In the mean time I saw this new speculation the canid/wolf transition, early today on linkfilter, and thought of the discussion on this subject, wonderin’ if it were still active…

    We didn’t go to the dogs – canines went to the people

    New evidence means new theories, which is always exciting.

  41. Ceroill responds:

    kittenz, I know it’s not quite the same, but I saw a documentary a couple of years back about a Russian man who did experiments in domestication of canids by raising foxes as if they were dogs. They lived in cages, but they were fed rather than having to hunt, and in other ways treated as a dog would be. In just a few generations they began to show ‘dog-like’ attributes: ears began to flop, coat became multicolored, etc.

  42. kittenz responds:

    I agree. The Russian experiment with the fur foxes is what got me started thinking that some dogs are at least partially descended from foxes. One of my friends had a pet store and from time to time they would have fox kits. The foxes are called blue foxes but they are really a color phase of arctic foxes. The kits behaved in every way like the puppies of small dogs. Small fox-like dogs (notably Pomeranians but several other types as well) even have the same kind of sheen and texture to their coats that foxes do, and there is a definite difference in their coats and those of wolf-like breeds such as shepherds and Mals.

    I’m going to keep looking for those refs. I believe that I saw the references to dog/fox matings in one of my books, but so far they have eluded me.

  43. Ceroill responds:

    kittenz: Another theory I’ve seen in the past about dog breeds takes the position that in many ways different breeds have essentially become frozen at different stages of maturity. The more ‘wolflike’ or ‘agressive’ breeds, like the German Shepherd types, Dobermans and such have been allowed to more fully mature, in a way. While the more cuddly looking dogs, like sheepdogs, Newfoundlands, and such have been bred for their puppy-like characteristics.

    I’m sure I’m not using all the correct technical terminology, but I feel certain you understand what I mean.

  44. dogu4 responds:

    In the mean time; here’s a scientist in Korea who’s cloning wolves.

  45. dogu4 responds:


  46. kittenz responds:

    The term for the retention of juvenile characteristics in the adult animal is neoteny, and I agree that domestic dogs – indeed domestic animals of all kinds – show neoteny to various degrees. For instance many dogs have drop ears, which is an adult manifestation of the folded “larval” ears of newborn puppies. All wild dogs have upright ears, usually by the time they are weaned.

    I don’t think that the evolution of domestic dogs is nearly as straightforward as some would have us believe. When dogs are left to their own devices, in long-term feral situations for instance, their overall appearance never reverts to a wolf-like appearance, but always begins to approximate the appearance of a dingo-like animal. Some multi-generational offspring of feral dogs look a bit like the Honshu wolves shown here. And so-called “Irish spotting” (the kind of white markings typically found in collies, for instance – white toes, tail tips, central facial blaze, and sometimes white throat or collar – is found in the wild in Arctic foxes and dingos, as well as in pariah-type dogs, but not in wolves. I believe that there are many, many missing pieces to the puzzle of canine evolution.

    In a somewhat related story, I read today at this link that some Korean scientists, who claim to have already succeeded in cloning dogs – specifically Afghan hounds – reported today that they have successfully cloned an endangered species of wolf. The article did not say what species it was. I am a bit skeptical since one of the people associated with the project is Hwang Woo-Suk, who is now an object of international disgrace because of fraud and other ethical issues. But if the news is true, it may mean that the numbers of some “extinct” or highly endangered species and subspecies could be increased in this way. It’s not a solution to the problem of extinction; only through protection and habitat preservation can we hope to prevent endangered animals from going extinct. But used judiciously, cloning could possibly help to prevent the total loss of critically endangered animals, or even to resurrect recently extinct species and subspecies.

  47. Brian Derby responds:

    I believe that the Honshu Wolf still exists because one just walked through my backyard (Saturday 2:00 July 2nd 2011).

    I have a house in the hills in Abeta village, Nabari City, Mie Province.

    es, something should be done to protect what is left of the species.


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